I kicked off the New Year with amazing people, eating incredible food, and participating in wondrous activities in the city of Chiang Mai, located in northern Thailand. Read on to learn about the city of Chiang Mai, elephants and New Year traditions.
Chiang Mai is a beautiful city rich in history. Founded in 1296, the gate that was built then is still standing today. Brick walls separate the ancient section from the new city and when you walk beyond the walls you can see a change in architecture, and a lack of tourists. The only time I left the Old City was for the Saturday Market and to visit Art in Paradise. There is enough to see in the Old City that if you are there for a few days you might not want to leave.
A Christmas party with my department at school on Friday night prevented me from leaving Friday, so instead I woke up early on Saturday and took the first flight out to Chiang Mai. Being the first of my group to arrive at the hostel, I used the time to walk around the Old City a bit, and found a market. Food in the North is slightly different than in other areas of Thailand. It was a lot of fun trying new Northern style dishes and I would get them again, if I could ever remember their names.
Once everyone arrived, we spent a lot of time exploring the area. There are numerous Buddhist temples to see, and well worth the trip. We visited several, but I’ll talk about three: Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phan Tao, and Wat Phra Sing. Each is beautiful in its own way, and each has a distinctive style.
- Wat Chedi Luang has three temples on its grounds: one modern, one ancient, and one that I thought was just breathtaking. The ancient temple, Wat Chedi Luang, is made of stone. The one that appears more modern, and which is also the first one you see, is called Wat Ho Tham. The breathtaking one is Wat Sukmin. You would never know there were three temples if you didn’t walk around Wat Ho Tham. This “3-in-1” temple site is well worth a visit – you can even chat with a monk and learn more about the Buddhist religion and the lifestyle of a monk.
- A few steps down the road from Wat Chedi Luang is Wat Phan Tao, a temple made entirely of teakwood. This is the first temple I’ve seen that isn’t stone or modern materials. The teakwood temple was marvelous and is still in use today so I was able to walk into this beautiful place. Behind the temple there were monks hanging lanterns in the trees and around the golden section for New Year’s Eve. These are at midnight to welcome in the New Year!
- Wat Phra Sing is one of the most famous temples in Chiang Mai. Many celebrations are held there, inspirational quotes are hung, and a beautiful Buddha, which legend says was brought there from Sri Lanka, gazes peacefully around.
The grounds around these temples are breathtaking, the amount of gold, impressive, and the markets bursting with delicious foods and interesting pieces, including wallets made of leaves. I’d recommend visiting Chiang Mai just for those reasons, but the area is also known for its elephant sanctuary.
I went with the company Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and they were amazing! 10/10 – I’m not being paid in any way, but I’d recommend them to anyone. They picked us up at our hostel, took us to the sanctuary, gave us shirts for when we saw the elephants (so our clothing wouldn’t get dirty), provided lunch, gave us snacks to feed to the elephants, and even gave us gifts (purses) that we saw in the markets. The employees were super helpful, engaging, fun, and informative. Elephants are my spirit animals and I was never happier than when I was spending time with them. We were able to pet and feed them –the mother elephant even began to hoard the bananas because she received so many. The baby, Nala, was my favorite elephant because she was only a few months old, super playful, and did what ever she wanted. At one point she just stayed underneath the hose head and let the water run underneath her. The two-year old was acting like a normal two year-old and breaking things so he could play with them. He broke the trap and started swinging it around.
The elephant sanctuary has been my favorite experience so far – and I don’t think much will top it. I fed these majestic creatures, bathed them, and even rolled around with them in the mud. The mud baths were so much fun – I was able to throw mud around and not get in trouble! It was so amazing and I can’t wait until I can play with the elephants again – totally going to be going to the same sanctuary in April.
That night was New Year’s Eve and Chiang Mai is famous for its floating lanterns. My friends and I all made promises for the New Year and released our lanterns together. I sang songs from Tangled as I sent my wishes and promises into the night sky. This was an amazing experience because I was able to start the New Year off in a way I’ve never done before. The year has started off really well thanks to those wishes!
Monday was spent within the Art of Paradise Museum, which is an illusion museum. I fell off cliffs, became a mermaid, hung out with pandas, and drank cola with polar bears. This was my first illusion museum and I had a lot of fun being in these art pieces. It was so different than going to an art museum because instead of enjoying the art I was the art. It was a new way to look at and experience artwork. I finally got time to relax Monday afternoon and stayed at the hostel, reading in the hammock and playing with their cats.
The night markets were some of the busiest I have ever seen. They have Saturday Night Markets and Sunday Night Markets every weekend. As it was a holiday weekend the Sunday Night Market was open on Monday night as well, and they were crowded. The food was amazing: everything was very fresh and I was able to try new foods and some homemade Thai wine. The goods sold were similar to what I have seen before mixed in with many new items as well. Most of those were made out of wood or handmade jewelry. If I wasn’t flying home I would have purchased more, but I didn’t want to break any thing.
Chiang Mai is beautiful and I can’t wait to go back again in April for Songkran, the Thai New Year’s Festival.
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